Services

Spiritual travel bloggers wanted

I’ve had a request to put this up by a friend of a friend if anyone is interested:

Looking for Bloggers to write about Religious Travel, Pilgrimages, and Spiritual Retreats.

Patheos.com, a religion and spirituality website that launched in May 2009, is looking for bloggers — from all regions of the globe —  to contribute to a new travel and retreat portal:http://www.patheos.com/Find/Travel-and-Retreats.html

Interested? Please contact information@patheos.com

If the iPad is going to revolutionise travel, it needs some travel apps

On Friday morning, I did something I have never considered doing before and went and queued outside a shop… To buy a new iPad – my first foray into early adoption!

I’m not quite sure what possessed me to do it, except for some reason it feels like a groundbreaking device and I felt I wanted to be one of the first to get my hands on one. Plus, it seemed a great piece of kit to take with me when travelling – I can access email, write stories, store pics, surf the net… All sorts of stuff that will help me work contained in something smaller than a hardback and much lighter.

That it can also carry 1000s of books, films and music to consume on the go adds to the appeal of course.

Since I got home on Friday night, it’s been virtually grafted to my hand as I try things out and play around. Not only is it a lovely piece of kit, but it’s also incredibly intuitive to use. In fact, I’m typing this post on it right now.

One of the things I was keen to try were the various travel apps – applications, or bits of software, that help you perform specific tasks – and I was surprised and disappointed to find a lack of them.

While I can find apps to help me find a new house or suggest dinner dishes based on what I have in the fridge, I can’t find anything to help me book a holiday…. Seems like holiday companies are missing a trick to me.

Most of the apps available are mapping ones which seem a little silly as the iPad comes equipped with Google Maps anyway. Why do I need to pay £1.79 for a walking map of Seattle when I have a gadget that let’s me see exactly where I am on a map and also zoom in to street level?

The others I’ve tried so far are enhancements on either existing services or more advanced iPhone apps.

Currency Covertor XE.com has an app that does an auto conversion for you when you enter an amount and Free Translator will allow you to enter phrases and have them output in the local lingo. I’ve tried it with Greek (a language I speak) and it works surprisingly well.

Another is The Times app. While not strictly a travel one, never again will I have to sit in a hotel breakfast room reading a local English language paper if I want news from Blighty. Every morning, a new copy of the paper downloads to my iPad for an average cost of about 40p a day. One thing the iPad, it seems, could do is preserve our status as newspaper journalists!

It’s a shame there’s not more out there really, as the possibilities are endless for the travel world – whoever gets in first will make a killing.

One area that is making full use of the iPad in travel is luxury hotels that are using them to provide services for their guests. The Luxury Travel Bible has a great article on which hotels are doing what here

http://www.luxurytravelbible.com/Product.asp?active_page_id=115

Redesigning the boarding pass

American designer and frequent flyer Tyler N Thompson was on a flight last year and took to dissecting his boarding pass. One of the problems he saw, and I tend to agree, is that much of the information on a boarding pass not only looks unattractive but is also hopeless for highlighting stand out information you need to know before flying.

He decided to have a pop at redesigning the pass, began to blog about it and loads more people have added their twopenneth. You can even download an Adobe Illustrator template if you want to have a go yourself.

See some of the – often brilliant – results at his website here passfail.squarespace.com

One great idea and one good cause

Yesterday afternoon I went to the annual spring lunch of a company called Travel PR – for those not in the know they are, you guessed it, a travel public relations company that mainly specialises in small, independent and often quirky travel companies.

Their client list includes the Association of Independent Tour Operators (www.aito.co.uk), Kirker Holidays (www.kirkerholidays.com), Sunvil (www.sunvil.co.uk), Voyages Jules Verne (www.vjv.co.uk) and many more… but it was two newish clients that really caught my eye.

One is a company that is just launching called Get Back To Me. Anyone who has tried to book an independent B&B in the UK will be familiar with how frustrating it can be. These days, people expect an immediate answer when trying to book online and unfortunately for many small B&Bs they just don’t have the manpower to do it.

While Mr Bloggs is out buying the bacon and eggs for the next morning’s breakfast, someone who is trying to get in touch and can’t is likely now looking up the number of the nearest Travelodge.

What Get Back To Me does is allow the consumer to input a destination and the site will send an SMS to all registered B&B and hotel owners in the vicinity, if they have availability, it costs them £1.50 to get back to the consumer and the deal is done.

The consumer facing side should be with us sometime in early summer – owner Anne Corbett thinks end May is likely – but B&B and hotel owners can register at now at getbacktome.co.uk

The other interesting lady I met was Stella Huyshe of Lyme Disease Action (www.lymediseaseaction.org.uk). Like Travel PR’s MD Sue Ockwell, Stella is suffering from Lyme Disease – an infectious debilitating disease brought on by tick bites.

The symptoms sound pretty awful

Lyme disease can affect any part of the body and cause many different symptoms. The commonest symptoms relate to the person feeling unwell, having flu-like symptoms, extreme tiredness, muscle pain, muscle weakness, joint pain, upset digestive system, headache, disturbances of the central nervous system and a poor sleep pattern. In some cases a characteristically shaped, expanding ‘bull’s eye’ rash appears on the skin. However, a rash in any form is not a universal symptom. If the rash does occur, it is termed Erythema migrans or EM rash. It may manifest in a chronic form and be known as Erythema chronicum migrans or ECM rash. The list of symptoms known to be associated with Lyme disease is long and diverse. The symptom pattern varies from person to person.

But crucially, there are different views on how long the disease should be treated for. Government advisors believe a 28-day course of antibiotics will do it while other scientists are of the view that the disease can affect a person for much longer.

That Stella has suffered for almost a decade without any joy suggests the latter could be right.

They’re a decent charity that are trying to change the government thinking on Lyme Disease and deserve some attention.Please give them some!

Five-star pet peeves

For this post, I’ve teamed up with travel writing colleague, Jill Starley-Grainger  to come up with our pet peeves about luxury hotels. Jill has come up with eight of the offerings, myself with two and the whole post has to be read over our two websites (well, we have to drive traffic you know).

Whether you’ve saved up for that luxury trip of a lifetime or you wouldn’t dream of bedding down in anything less than a five-star, these hotel hassles can make your holiday more irritating.

Breakfast (by JSG)
If I’m paying through the nose to stay in your hotel, the least you can do is provide breakfast at a reasonable price, if not free. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve been presented with the breakfast bill (the price is rarely displayed as it’s often a vast help-yourself buffet with additional hot-food menu), only to discover that the croissant and coffee I had have cost as much as the GDP of some small African countries. (PS If you’re going to charge through the nose for the buffet, at least allow a reasonably priced non-buffet menu for those with small appetites.)
Climate control (By JSG)
I now know to pack my flannel PJs if I’m going to a balmy tropical island, and my flimsiest nightdress if I’m going skiing. Just because it’s hot outside doesn’t mean I want it to feel like a freezer inside, and vice versa. What’s more, the air conditioning and heating controls often do not respond to any commands, other than on or off, and sometimes, not even that. Brrrr…
Villa / resort guide (by JSG)
How do I work the television? What are the channels? Where do I find the spare blankets? How do I turn off the fucking outside lights you’ve put on with my turn-down service and that shine through my window all night? How do I use that ridiculously expensive espresso machine in my room? Where is the shop that sells deodorant? How do I find the spa? Etc, etc. Just give me a map of the resort, a manual to the villa or room, and some idea of what’s on offer throughout, including all the restaurant and spa menus (with prices!).
Toiletries (By JSG)
Conditioner, people, conditioner! I know very few women who do not use conditioner regularly, if not every time they wash their hair, and a heck of a lot of men use it daily, too. But how many five-star hotels provide it? I can think of only two, and of those, only one provided good conditioner. And also, what’s with the crappy little plastic bottles? Big refillable ones with pumps to easily extract the product are far preferred. OK, some people want to take home their little plastic toiletries, but chances are, those of us in five-stars have a million of these throw-away two-use freebies already and would just prefer nice products in nice refillable bottles. For take-home, sell large versions in your shop!
Weight-sensitive mini bars (by WoJ)
Why is it that posh hotels cannot be satisfied with getting you to break the bank to stay there but seemingly have to find each and every way to screw as much cash out of you as possible? (See our entries on wifi and breakfast.) But of all the low-down, dirty tricks they can pull to squeeze that last cent out of you, the weight-sensitive mini bar – where you get charged when you lift the product up, even if you replace it in the fridge – has to be the worst.  Let’s say I’m prepared to pay the ludicrous price for the privilege of serving myself the smallest measure of spirit known to mankind (should I tip myself I wonder?), why can I not pick up a bottle, read the label and see if I fancy it or not without being charged? How does this system work any better than having the maid simply see if a bottle of booze has gone the next morning? Its only use is to annoy the hell out of guests. Way to go when trying to attract repeat visitors, hoteliers.

For our other five peeves, see Jill’s site:  http://uktraveleditor.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/top-10-five-star-hotel-pet-peeves

Follow Jill on Twitter:  www.twitter.com/UKtraveleditor

Launch of traverati.com

Travel writers Catherine Quinn, Kieran Meeke and myself have just launched a new editorial website, traverati.com.

I won’t go into too much detail here, but check the site out and let us know what you think www.traverati.com

The official party line:

New Launch: www.traverati.com featuring The 360 Traveller magazine

Showcasing the best of travel writing, blogging and fact files on the web, www.traverati.com launches this week. The site includes The Traverati blogging network with opinion from leading travel writers and regular guest slots.

The world's largest sprig of mistletoe?

Nice little publicity stunt from my friends over at Heathrow’s T5 where they’ve put what they claim to be the world’s largest piece of mistletoe.

Unfortunately, it’s not real though: the ten foot by eight foot structure weighs 43kg and includes more than 50 feet of steel tubing and 25 stainless steel balls… Probably just as well though, in ancient times people believed mistletoe grew from bird droppings.

All I want for Christmas

Surprised but chuffed to be asked for my recommendations for Christmas presents from the huge selection available to people flying to and from Heathrow over the holidays.

The airport has launched a gift website www.heathrowgiftlist.com that showcases some of the items you can get at tax free prices on the way in and out of the airport.

You can also win your own gift list in a prize draw if you think you can do better than my choices

Hurrah for some hotels that don't charge for wi-fi

Fellow blogger Frank Camel tells me of a ridiculous recent wi-fi experience when staying at the Morgan Hotel in New York, sister to London’s  Sanderson and Miami’s Delano.

He paid $600 for accommodation a night and was then charges $10 per day per connection, so two lap tops cost $20 a day. (see his review here)

The good guys

Nonetheless, I have found some hotel groups that speak my language. Shangri-la has offered free wi-fi in its hotels around the world with their CEO Madhu Rao saying: ‘Getting connected while on the road is the number one priority of our business travellers and many of our valued customers view Internet access as absolutely crucial. Offering free Internet is further evidence of our commitment to Shangri-La’s service to our customers during these uncertain times. No longer considered a luxury, guests are demanding high-speed Internet access as an essential room requirement and as something that should be included as a standard service by an international hotel group.’

Another big bravo goes to Best Western. Their spokesperson says: ‘All Best Western hotels as part of their membership criteria, must offer free high speed internet access, whether it be wifi, or through a broadband connection in all guest rooms and public area. As part of our quality assessment of the hotels we also check the strength and speed of the connection to ensure it is reaching all rooms (which in an 18th Century castle with buttress walls is easier said than done). As all Best Western hotels are fully independent businesses, any hotel that does not offer free high speed internet access will risk being rejected from membership.’

It looks as though we could be getting somewhere on commitments from other companies too. TUI Travel UK have pledged to explore offering free wi-fi at all their exclusive hotels. Their spokesperson says:

Thomson and First Choice (part of TUI Travel UK) work with hoteliers in different ways; some properties, such as our Sensatori properties and Holiday Villages are exclusive to Thomson and First Choice respectively, while others we contract rooms alongside other operators. Your campaign is certainly of interest and we’re pleased to say that this is also something we’re keen to offer our customers in those properties that are exclusive to us. For example our Sensatori Crete and Holiday Village Turkey offer free wi-fi in the lobby areas, with discussions on-going as to how to roll this out wider.  Of course, an ideal solution would be to offer this in every room at every exclusive property and this is something our teams are exploring further. ‘

The not so good guys

I’m a bit disappointed though with both Premier Inn and Travelodge – both of which follow the nickel and dime model of charging.

Premier’s spokesperson says: ‘Premier Inn offers guests great quality, yet low cost accommodation where prices start from as little as £29 per night for a family room. It is our policy to keep prices as low as possible to improve value for the guest. Therefore, rather than increasing the overall room cost to cover WiFi for all; guests only pay for what they use. If a customer requires WIFi they may purchase vouchers from reception costing from £5 per hour.’

While Travelodge, currently offering £10 rooms until January 3 has an incremental charge of £5 for one hour, £10 for 24 hours, £20 for one week and £30 for one month.

I still don’t buy this idea of not offering it free as it increases the cost of the room. Even if wi-fi maintenance costs more than £100 a day – which it clearly doesn’t, in a 100 room hotel that was even half full that would be £2 extra a day.

If anyone knows details of how much setting up a wifi system in a hotel costs and wants to share them anonymously, then please get in touch…

If you support the campaign, leave a comment